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Turning Over the Reins - Page 3

In the coming months, as the lesson resonated, I understood that I'd long been giving Alex mixed signals by combining messages of freedom with expressions of fear. "You can step out into the world," I'd been telling her, thinking I'd been exuding and imparting calm confidence, but my tone and attitude had actually conveyed, "Be afraid, be very afraid." This double message didn't fit my image of my parenting style at all, and I didn't like it.

We visited Doug every summer for the next 10 years. He and his wife, Dawn, became Alex's "aunt and uncle." Alex and Doug went on daylong rides across prairies, through arroyos, and over mountains. Once, while they sat on their horses, calmly admiring a particularly gorgeous view, Buddy suddenly saw a rattlesnake and started, throwing Alex. She hit the ground so hard she lost her breath, and it took a few seconds before she could feel her legs. Doug watched to see what she'd do. When she walked over to Buddy and remounted, she noticed with surprise that his eyes had teared up.

Doug had once been a high-priced, fast-living therapist in Miami Beach. He had a black belt in karate, and was a horseman, a cowboy, an expert marksman, and a certified snowboarding instructor. Long before that, he'd been a short, skinny, vulnerable, angry, and terrified child, beaten by his bipolar father and bullied by the kids in his school. Doug was bipolar too—and last year, his mania took over.

A few months after we last saw him in the summer of 2007, he quit his therapy practice and joined a private security force in Qatar. His marriage now over, he returned with fierce tattoos, cracked ribs, and a bruised spleen, telling contradictory stories about what had happened. He began a mad odyssey to Louisiana and Florida, sending out bizarre text messages and e-mails. Deeply depressed and flat broke, he returned to Colorado and got a job at the local prison, but he didn't show up for work the first day—and then he disappeared. I tried to prepare Alex for what I believed was coming.

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